Members of the Bundestag, Ministers, Presidents,
Directors-General, Mr Bellut, Mr Kleist,
Ladies and gentlemen,
How, in the time allotted a speaker on an occasion like this, can one truly acknowledge a man who, for almost seven decades, has not only acted as a public intellectual but has also, through the power of his influence, shaped the image and role of the public intellectual like no other German? A man who has accompanied the journey of the Federal Republic from the beginning as a spiritus rector, a man whose words and arguments have helped define our country’s development at every crucial juncture?
I think of Jürgen Habermas as one of the first to set the risk of public confrontation against the fledgling Federal Republic’s desire to dispose of the National Socialist past.
I think of the conclusion he drew: that the only possible response to the intellectual and moral devastation of National Socialism was to anchor Germany in the West – as a rejection of German unilateralism and with the aim of opening up Germany unreservedly to the world.
I think of Jürgen Habermas as the proponent of a modern, constitutional patriotism which sets no ethnic, historical or geographical limits, but which instead, in its universality, transcends borders.
And I think also of his contributions in the face of the challenges of the modern technological age, such as his warning against the fragmentation of the public sphere as a consequence of the digital revolution.
If this monumental body of work inspires in us such profound respect, it is in part because the diagnoses and hypotheses it contains have, with hindsight, proved so accurate.
For this reason, my approach in paying tribute today can but be to summarise, an approach which will necessitate omissions. For this, I beg your indulgence.
I would like to focus on one area of Jürgen Habermas’s work which, in the face of the renaissance of nationalism, global trends towards isolationism and the danger of our continent disintegrating into its nation-state components, obviously concerns me deeply in my capacity as German Foreign Minister: namely, the future of Europe.
How can Europe hold its own in a world radicalised by increasing nationalism, populism and chauvinism?
How can we defend the achievements of the 20th century and sustainably secure and strengthen the European peace project and democracy in Europe in this, the 21st century? And how can Germany meet its responsibility for shaping a European future?
These questions occupy me greatly, and I know that they occupy many of you here today. Above all, however, they occupy Professor Habermas.
You do not shy away from criticising German policy when you accuse it of a lack of courage or remind it that non-decisions, too, can be decisions of great import.
With great far-sightedness, you are championing your vision of Europe as an enlightened “nation of citizens” – the only correct response to the devastation caused by nationalism, anti-Semitism, racism and war last century. Europe as a community of justice. Europe as our response to globalisation. That has been, that is, your Europe!
Through your passionate commitment to this Europe, you more than anyone have done great service for Franco-German and European understanding – as a philosopher and sociologist, as a lecturer and essayist, and as an intellectual bridge-builder between Germany and France.
The politically engaged intellectual is rather a rarity in Germany, and so all the more important for that. Sometimes we look with envy – or perhaps sometimes with alarm, depending on our point of view – towards France, where public debate and intellectual argument are conducted with much more passion. Debates on television or radio, or on the opinion pages of Le Monde, Libération or Le Figaro, set the tone for debates in the political sphere. As do intellectuals. That is how impactful philosophy, sociology or political science can be, at least among our French neighbours.
Here in Germany, Professor Habermas, you embody, in almost ideal form, this French pugnacity, this love of opinion and debate. You are a man of intellect who also has a marked sense of the civic and a profound feeling of responsibility for the entirety.
Your pronouncements overcome the “powerlessness of ought” criticised by Hegel because they never limit themselves to simple appellatives. They are maxims for action hardened by a sense of reality and pragmatism – not least for us as politicians.
Over recent months, your voice has been one of the loudest urging us in no uncertain terms to courageously take up President Emmanuel Macron’s proposals.
Not because you agreed with all his proposals, but because you recognised that here was someone fighting for the European cause with a passion, courage and eloquence all too often lacking in the German debate.
With the decisions taken at the Franco-German ministerial meeting in Meseberg just over a fortnight ago, Germany has now at last begun to reach for Macron’s outstretched hand
Neither quickly enough nor keenly enough for you, I know; nevertheless, Germany and France are now moving forward together in Europe on the further development of the Eurozone, the shaping of the digital future and most especially on foreign, security and defence policy.
And no, we must not stop at that. In a new Élysée Treaty to be drawn up by the end of this year, we want to transform the spirit of Franco-German reconciliation of the mid-20th century into a shared desire to shape the 21st century.
In times in which Europe is under threat of imploding and being torn apart from outside, we need a radical alliance with France. Radical in this context means that we must be willing to seek compromise no longer in the form of a mere quid pro quo in specific policy fields but to aim for agreement on very different policy fields on the basis of overarching strategic considerations, irrespective of the differences, which there are and always will be, in foreign, security, economic and fiscal policy.
When it comes to German policy on Europe and foreign policy, and speaking on behalf of the Federal Foreign Office, I can say this: we are firmly resolved to walk this path with our French friends.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The European Union is at a true crossroads. This is true not only with an eye to the controversial and irresponsible discussions of recent days both at home and in the European Union about refugees and migration.
Essentially, these discussions are about whether the European Union will fulfil its role as a place of refuge and dream destination for people from Africa, the Middle East and Asia, or whether it will fall apart at this hurdle.
The underlying question is this: how do we balance national and European responsibilities? What value does European solidarity have in Europe and in face of the world? A few days ago, the European Council provided some answers. But we all know that these are just steps, and in some cases only small steps, on a long and undoubtedly winding road.
And I am aware of your scepticism, Professor Habermas, about critical rationalism which seeks solutions tentatively, step by step. But perhaps you will also agree that even single steps can constitute progress along the road, at least if the goal and direction are clear and correct.
From the outset, European integration was a project that overcame borders – not least as a response to all the wars fought on European soil over those very borders.
The overcoming of these borders, the creation of a common area of freedom, justice and almost unlimited freedom of movement – these achievements must also mark out our future path.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Precisely because we are at this crossroads, this is the moment when Germany must step up to meet its pan-European responsibility. Looking at the world around us, we see and sense daily that what you said eleven years ago, Professor Habermas, now pertains: namely that the power of negotiation and the threat potential of individual states are insufficient when it is a matter of innovatively shaping an international order called on to tackle global problems. That is exactly the challenge facing us today.
This presupposes that we define European cohesion in the sense of true solidarity as an overarching German interest. Logically, it is impossible for any national interest to override this German-European interest.
Not far from here, the German Bundestag is currently in debate, with speakers saying that German policy and also German foreign policy must act “in the German interest” and assert our national interests in the world. Those making these demands have failed to understand that the German interest to which we are committed has long had a name – and that is Europe.
Ladies and gentlemen,
This realisation also requires that we Germans do not go around finger-pointing, dividing people into good and bad Europeans. At the same time, though, it does not absolve us from speaking out if the codification and civilisation of state power are at risk – including within the European Union. Because these are defining characteristics of the European integration process, as you said a few years ago, Professor Habermas.
The division of the West you warned against right after 9/11 seems to be emerging, particularly in our relations with the United States. And it is true that in political terms the Atlantic has become wider and deeper in recent months. Today, on 4 July, our American friends celebrate the birth of their nation in 1776. The Declaration of Independence signed that day is one of the most important founding documents in the West. Let me remind you just of its most famous sentence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” I believe this sentence is well worth quoting today of all days, in the hope that one or two people in the United States, too, will recall it.
Ladies and gentlemen,
At this time, not only when Europe is the subject of debate, but also when there are tensions in the transatlantic relationship, this sentiment should inspire us Europeans to reaffirm the centuries-old credo of the West – “all men are created free and equal” – and to strive resolutely for this ideal.
Not blindly, keen as Europeans to save the West. But in the awareness that democracy, open societies, the rule of law and social cohesion are essential for that which we term “European patriotism”. Jürgen Habermas would probably prefer the term “European identity”.
On such a form of patriotism, such a European identity, rests my firm conviction that we can secure Europe’s future.
In the best Habermasian tradition, your biographer, the sociologist Stefan Müller-Doohm, while resisting the temptation to heroicise you, nonetheless called you a “master thinker”.
You yourself once described what in your view distinguishes an intellectual: an avant-gardist instinct for relevance.
Indeed this is a quality which you have done more than describe. It is by no means an exaggeration to say that, by this standard, your life and work are the life and work of one of the great intellectuals of our age.
The Franco-German Prize for Journalism being awarded to you today is an expression of gratitude and recognition for precisely that. It can be proud and happy to number you among its laureates.
I hope you will continue to make your voice heard, remain unafraid to argue, and stimulate German and European debates with your delight in discourse. In Germany, in France, and far beyond.
We bitterly need your instinct for relevance in Germany today.
Congratulations, and all good wishes to you!